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Santa Clarita Gravel Mine Opponents to Make Last Attempt to Alter Plan

Protest: Hundreds of north county residents plan to attend a Board of Supervisors hearing to air grievances.


Hundreds of north Los Angeles County residents are expected to crowd a Board of Supervisors hearing today in a last-ditch effort to derail plans for a large sand and gravel mine in Soledad Canyon.

The mine would be operated by Transit Mixed Concrete Co., a subsidiary of the Mexican concrete giant Cemex, on 460 acres just east of Santa Clarita. It has sparked one of the fiercest quality-of-life battles in the growing suburbs north of the San Fernando Valley.

The city of Santa Clarita lined up several charter buses to deliver homeowners, environmentalists and elected officials to the hearing, after which the board is scheduled to vote on the plans. If the project is approved, the mine could open within two years.

Opponents from Santa Clarita, Agua Dulce and Acton say the mine would lower property values, exhaust water supplies and clog freeways with trucks.

Agua Dulce resident Tana Lampton said she is also worried that lights at the mine would ruin her view of the stars.

"This will mean no more dark skies," she said.

Though Santa Clarita officials are exploring legal options to stop the mine, the supervisors' decision on Cemex's mining permit application would be the last major hurdle for the project, said Brian Mastin, an environmental affairs manager for the company. The mine already has federal approval.

Cemex officials argue that concrete helped build communities like those in the Santa Clarita Valley. The mine would extract 56 million tons of sand and gravel over 20 years, 10% of what Los Angeles County's building market consumes, Mastin said.

Arguing the mine will barely be noticed by residents, Mastin said it will comply with anti-dust regulations, stop using water during drought conditions and have minimal effects on traffic. He said a federal study concluded that new trucks would increase Antelope Valley Freeway traffic by just 1.5%.

"It's a very low-impact situation," he said.

In April, another bused-in crowd of Santa Clarita protesters cheered supervisors when they voted to reject an earlier version of the proposal. Since then, some key obstacles to the mine have fallen away.

As a result, even Santa Clarita officials sound pessimistic. In a recent e-mail to residents, City Manager George Caravalho said he believed the supervisors were ready to sign off on the project.

"The protests of thousands of residents has fallen on deaf ears," he said.

The opponents had hoped the plans would be stymied by the discovery near the mine property of the endangered arroyo toad, which lives in the Santa Clara River. But in October, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ruled that the toad would survive the mine.

And early this month, the county Department of Regional Planning rejected four proposals from the community to soften the mine's environmental effects. County planners worried that it would be "economically infeasible" to adopt the measures. Those included using trains instead of trucks to haul gravel, preserving the ridgeline above the mine, using piped-in water instead of Santa Clara River water and putting air-conditioning in nearby schools to reduce students' exposure to emissions.

Planners did agree to other community proposals, such as reducing the plant's operating hours. But the Bureau of Land Management stepped in and objected to the time limit and other restrictions.

The federal government, which owns the mineral rights to the land, approved the project in August 2000. In a Nov. 16 letter to Supervisor Mike Antonovich, whose 5th District includes Santa Clarita, BLM officials reminded the county that while it can impose "reasonable mitigating measures," it can't stop the mine.

Still, Santa Clarita officials say they hope the county board will adopt the train, water and ridgeline proposals, which Antonovich has endorsed.

"We're not saying no mining," city spokesman Jason Smisko said. "What we're saying is stop the project as it's proposed."

The hearing is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. at 500 W. Temple St.

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